An SDLP leadership candidate’s radical plans to create an expert commission to reorganise and regenerate his party’s fortunes have been dismissed by a number of colleagues.
In yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, MP for South Belfast, proposed “divvying out slices of leadership” to each of the contenders and chairing a leadership board which would include them all alongside Margaret Ritchie, the outgoing leader.
Next month Dr McDonnell, Patsy McGlone, Conall McDevitt and Alex Attwood will all contest the SDLP leadership at the party’s annual conference.
PR guru Tom Kelly ran election campaigns for both Seamus Mallon and John Hume when the party was at its peak, and currently leans towards Mr McGlone in the leadership stakes. Mr Kelly suspects Dr McDonnell’s idea may be inspired by ‘Team Of Rivals’, a bestselling biography of Abraham Lincoln which tells how he persuaded former opponents to join his first cabinet as US President.
“It sounds idyllic but that is not how the SDLP works,” he said.
“People often talk about collaboration before they get elected but seldom follow through.”
Mr Kelly said the worst outcome would be if Mr McDevitt, who is currently joint bookies’ favourite with Mr McGlone, won the leadership.
“The SDLP could implode if Conall got it. He marks the widest disjoint between potential SDLP voters and the party membership.
“Even Alex (Attwood) would bring more stability, though he probably isn’t as popular with the members as Conall,” he said.
Mr McDevitt ruled out playing on Dr McDonnell’s “team of rivals”.
“We already have a leadership structure and the last thing we should do is add another layer to it,” he argued.
Brian Heading, the SDLP mayor of Lisburn, supports Mr Attwood, who will launch his leadership bid later today.
Mr Heading also sees Dr McDonnell’s idea as unnecessary.
“This idea would take decision making further away from the grassroots” he said.
Margaret Ritchie stepped down in September saying she wanted to concentrate on constituency work. Dr McDonnell is one of four men vying to replace her. The others are deputy leader Patsy McGlone, South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt and Environment Minister Alex Attwood.